Covenant House Toronto

Covenant House Toronto is a nonprofit organization that serves, at-risk, homeless and trafficked youth between 16 and 24. It is based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and is one of the many Covenant House locations based in North America. The Toronto location is the largest agency of its kind in Canada, with 80 per cent of their annual funding coming from donors. The house serves as many as 300 youth a day regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or the circumstances that have brought them to their doors. Covenant House also offers services such as education, after-care, counselling, health care, employment assistance and job training. The organization has also offered hope and care to more than 95,000 young people since its start in 1982.

Covenant House Toronto
FoundedToronto, Ontario, Canada (1982)
ServicesFood, shelter and a variety of services to homeless youth between the ages of 16 and 24


Covenant House began its operations in Toronto after Cardinal Carter gathered the local community to support the kids sleeping outside of his office. The 30-bed shelter opened its doors in 1982 and became the second international site established in the childcare agency.[1] In the late 80's, the house had achieved big milestones by opening an on-site health clinic and school. In the 1990s, Covenant house has managed to open up programs such as employment service program, increasing the size capacity by 48 per cent and provide long term residence. During the 2000s, the house had started its own culinary arts program, and build a rooftop garden for therapeutic services. In 2006, the organization launches the “Arts and Minds” program which provides day programs for youth with mental health issues. In 2010, the shelter had achieved more milestones by launching a renovated job centre, on-site adult education, and an Urban Response Model, which is an anti-sex trafficking plan. Since then, Covenant House has established itself by employing 200 professionals at the facility to assist the youth of Toronto in any issue seems fit.[2]


According to a study by Covenant House, youth homelessness, leaving child welfare, sex trafficking and youth employment are the biggest issues youth in Canada face today.

Youth HomelessnessEdit

Youth Homelessness is one of the growing issues in Canada. Case studies argue that the issue of street kids is largely misunderstood. In Canada, there are many youth who struggle to call a place home. Actions such as couch surfing, sleeping in shelters, parks, alleyways, or even random doorways are very common.[3] Research shows that many kids who live on street left their homes because they did not want to live under their parent's rules. Some fled their home due to mental health, trauma or sexual abuse.[3] Mental health issues are a major factor in youth homelessness. Covenant House ensures that mental health is one of their top priorities, because 40 per cent of youth that enter the facility have some form of mental health issue. Covenant House has seen a reported demographic from the aboriginal community, black youth, and LGBT youth that make up between 25 and 40 per cent of homeless youth in Toronto.[4] A recent study showed that around 40 per cent of homeless youth that were under 16 experienced their first form of homelessness. Without proper housing, full-fledged meals, clean clothes and showers, it is hard for a youth to mobilize towards a good future because they suffer from a lack of basic necessities.[5] At Covenant House, it is their mission to end youth homelessness by offering a wide number of services and support.[6]

Leaving Child WelfareEdit

Some children and youth live under the child welfare system when a family is under crisis. This can include youth who have suffered from abuse, neglect and trauma. There are children who go into foster care and end up with new families.[3] According to research, that is not always the case due to the past experiences and trauma that plague a child's mind to not be comfortable with their current living situation. This situation leads to many youth to run away from their homes and live on the streets. In Ontario, the age limit to be eligible under the child welfare system is 18. In some cases, a child can receive support up till the age of 21. The main issue lacking in the system is the opt out age of 16. One study has shown that youth lacking maturity tend to leave the system because they feel that the system never cared for them in the first place.[3] The study conducted by the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth found that many youth are leaving care and struggling to live independently. In the study, it states that 60 percent of the homeless youth reported have had some form of involvement with the child welfare system.[3]

Sex TraffickingEdit

Sex Trafficking in Canada is a widespread issue with 63% of human trafficking victims in Ontario are Canadian citizens.[7] Covenant House looks at sex trafficking as a modern-day version of slavery. Homeless youth have become the biggest target in exploitation. Most of the sex trafficking victims are young Canadian girls.[8] The average age of sex trafficking is reported to be 17 years old. Many of the victims suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. Since 2014, Toronto Police have brought the issue into the limelight by formalizing an anti-trafficking team. Since the beginning of the operation, Toronto has seen an increase of over 113% in occurrences and have made arrests 360% more than the last year.[9]

Youth EmploymentEdit

Another big issue that leads to youth homelessness is youth unemployment. The main cause of this issue focuses on how homeless lack basic education, life skills, job experience, and stability keep their employment. The drop-out rate for homeless youth is at an all-time high of 53%. Covenant House believes that kids who do not have a support system and basic necessities have a hard time seeking a job and keeping employment.[10]

What Covenant House OffersEdit

The FacilityEdit

At Toronto's Covenant House, the troubled youth are provided with fresh meals, a clean bed and safe haven from outside danger. The house is a 96-bed shelter that is split into two different floors based on gender. Each floor is split into different rooms with a maximum of 3 beds. Majority of the rooms consist of double and limited single beds. These rooms are well maintained that provide the youth with basic amenities such as underwear, socks, shampoo, pyjamas, toothbrush, and bodywash.[2]

The outer view of Covenant House Toronto. Located at 20 Gerrard St E, Toronto, ON M5B 2P3

Family LinkEdit

In the Family Link, Covenant House volunteers work with each youth to re-establish broken relationships with their family and friends. The organization also works on preventing youth in the community from leaving their home and living in the street.[11] The Family Link program counsels youth from the age of 16 to 24 who are living at the shelter to start reconnecting with a family member, friend, or trusted guardian. The program also looks at how counsellors can counsel youth to improve their relationships with their families. The program also enables parents to get involved with their kids by joining family counselling sessions and receiving advice from counsellors.[11]

BensKids Health CentreEdit

The BensKids Health Centre is an onsite clinic that helps homeless youth to overcome physical, emotional and psychological tolls of living on the streets. The clinic serves anyone that comes through, even if they do not have any health coverage or any form of ID. The clinic is open to kids five days a week with no limitations.[12] The clinic is staffed with five nurses, three family doctors, volunteer massage therapists and counsellors, one adolescent medicine specialist and two psychiatrists. The clinic also provides on-site testing for any medical emergency.[12]

Onsite SchoolEdit

Covenant House claims that homeless youth have had their education privileges taken from them because of their unfortunate circumstances. Covenant House have started a day school for youth between 16 and 21 that offer high school credits and access to e-learning with dedicated onsite teacher to help the kids in any educational matter.[13] The school offers compulsory and elective courses that can help a youth graduate high school. Covenant House also offers schooling for youth aged 22 to 26 by offering them an online adult education program that helps the young adults to achieve their high school diploma.[13]

Job Training ProgramsEdit

Covenant House Toronto provides different workplace programs that help youth gain experience in the outer world. The organization has their own culinary arts training program called Cooking for Life.[14] The program is led by and executive chef who trains the youth for entry level jobs in the hospitality industry. Covenant House pays for all the fees for all students to achieve their job placement, which includes the Food Handlers certificate.

Job CentreEdit

At the Job Centre, young people are given the tools and material to find a job and have a sustainable income. The job centre also helps the struggling youth with ideas in how to live independently by having one-on-one sessions. In these sessions, counsellors look at the person's interest, challenges and strengths to determine an appropriate career path. The centre help the youth by helping them create a resume and weekly coaching meetings. On Interview day, kids are provided with the appropriate attire and transportation money.[15]

Support ServicesEdit

Covenant House has established their own Community Support Services (CSS) that offer youth that do not live in the shelter the same support system as the residents who live in the house.[16] CSS looks on to help the youth of community to be independent and have stability in their lives. Youth workers always welcome youth by having regular appointment and counselling sessions. Some of the ways the CSS help the kids is by providing them with housing support. This support is used to help a youth to get accustomed to his or her lifestyle living independently. CSS also helps youth who are going through a rough transition in their lives with counselling sessions. CSS also provides goods, clothing and food items to kids who are starting their new independent lives.

Presentations and TrainingEdit

Covenant House is deeply committed to bringing more awareness and knowledge regarding the issue of youth homelessness. In the presentation, the issues surrounding sex trafficking, youth homelessness and exploitation are heavily discussed.[17] Covenant House also offers presentations and workshops to students, health care professionals, transport and security staff, child welfare and social workers and other stakeholders.[17]

Lise Watier: This is Me! Girls ProgramEdit

The program is sponsored by the Lise Watier Foundation and collaboration with the girls at Covenant House. The program offers girls life skills workshops and speeches from influential female mentor speakers.[18] The program also creates a safe space for women to embrace anything that is on their minds. A Toronto study showed that homeless girls are ten times more likely to be sexually assaulted than girls with normal housing. The report states that 23 percent of homeless women have traded sex for food. This leads to heavy mental health issues like addiction, self-harm and eating disorders. There is even a higher chance of unplanned pregnancy.[18] The program's motto includes the “Seven C’s”. They are Confidence, Character, Control, Coping, Competence, Connection, and Contribution.[18] The core elements of the programs runs from providing basic necessities, female focused programming, mentorship, one-on-one counselling, monthly reflection meetings, safe girls’ space, special outings, and physical fitness.[18]

Just Like A Girl You KnowEdit

In 2017, Covenant House launched a five-year $10 million campaign to bring more awareness to sex trafficking in Ontario. Most of the funding is depended on donations, and only 20 percent of the programming will be funded by the government. The Archdiocese of Toronto had pledged $600.000 every year to support this cause.[19] The organization published a four-minute video explaining on real life experiences of everyday teens being the victim of sex trafficking in the province. The campaign was chaired by Canadian philanthropist Suzanne Rogers. Covenant House opened up “The Rogers Home” which is a transitional housing program that will provides services for victims of sex trafficking.[20]


  1. ^ Covenant House Toronto. "History".
  2. ^ a b Covenant House Toronto. "Crisis Shelter". Covenant House Toronto. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e Gaetz, S; Kidd, B; Schwan, K (2016). "Without A Home : The National Youth Homelessness Survey". Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.
  4. ^ Springer, J; Lum, J; Roswell, T (2013). "Policy Challenges to Homelessness Among Caribbean Youth in Toronto". Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.
  5. ^ Abramovich, A (2013). "No Fixed Address: Young, Queer, and Restless". Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.
  6. ^ Covenant, House. "Youth Homelessness". Retrieved 8 December 2017.
  7. ^ Perrin, B (2010). "Invisible Chains: Canada's Underground World of Human Trafficking". Penguin Group.
  8. ^ Canadian Women’s Foundation (2014). ""No More": Ending Sex Trafficking in Canada, Report of the National Task Force on Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls in Canada". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. ^ Perrin, B (2010). "Invisible Chains: Canada's Underground World of Human Trafficking". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ Covenant House. "Youth Employment". Retrieved 8 December 2017.
  11. ^ a b "BensKids Health Centre | Toronto Homeless Youth Shelter". Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  12. ^ a b "Onsite School | Toronto Homeless Youth Shelter". Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  13. ^ "Job Training Programs | Toronto Homeless Youth Shelter". Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  14. ^ "Job Centre | Toronto Homeless Youth Shelter". Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  15. ^ "Support Services | Toronto Homeless Youth Shelter". Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  16. ^ a b "Presentations and Training | Toronto Homeless Youth Shelter". Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  17. ^ a b c d "Lise Watier: This is Me! Girls Program | Toronto Homeless Youth Shelter". Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  18. ^ Michael, Michael Swan. "Covenant House applauds overhaul of Child, Youth and Family Services Act". Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  19. ^ Martin, Shanon. "Covenant House launching campaign to help end sex trafficking". CBC News. Retrieved 11 December 2017.

External linksEdit